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    Resounding community: the history and meaning of medieval church bells

    Arnold, John H. and Goodson, Caroline (2012) Resounding community: the history and meaning of medieval church bells. Viator 43 (1), pp. 99-130. ISSN 0083-5897.

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    Abstract

    As both antiquarian and more recent studies have noted, bells played a central role in medieval Christianity. This article aims to show that the history and meanings of church bells are more complex than often assumed. Drawing on a mixture of archaeological and textual material, the article demonstrates that a variety of types of bell—and indeed other signaling devices—were found in early medieval Christianity, and argues that the social and spiritual meanings of bells, whilst in some aspects determined by liturgical texts of the eleventh century, could also vary markedly depending upon the context, use, and reception of their sound. A bell calling a community to prayer was thus not simply “marking” the hours; it was summoning and producing the spiritual community, and its voice could be contested and even on occasion rejected.

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